TAMPA, Fla. — Hillsborough County Public Schools serves over 30,000 students with disabilities, and those students often require a little extra help at school from Exceptional Student Education (ESE) teachers.
Right now, the district is actively recruiting new ESE teachers, trying to fill 60 ESE teaching positions, and thanks to their STEP program, an accelerated special education teacher preparation program, officials say a background in education isn’t necessary.
Whitney Bradford spends her days at Lanier Elementary School helping second and third grade ESE students. She’s one of several ESE teachers at the school, and for her, it’s all because of the STEP program.
“The county posted the STEP meeting to get ESE teachers, and I thought, that’s kind of different than what I’ve been doing, and I went to the meeting and I was like, ‘I’m doing it, for sure,’” she said.
Bradford said her degree is in family consumer sciences, and she taught with a temporary teaching certificate in Louisiana prior to moving to the Bay area this year.
Through the STEP program, she’s working on receiving her teaching certificate while working in the classroom.
“They give you, it’s up to three years, but it’s really spread out so it’s not all on your shoulders. You have time to get everything done," she said.
Bradford says while it can be challenging changing careers, and working with students who have special needs, the rewards make it worth it, and seeing the difference she’s making in the kids’ lives is priceless.
For those who have a bachelor’s degree, or higher, outside of education, and are interested in teaching special education, there will be a STEP information session on Oct. 3.